Easy ways of consuming less – it’s all in the habits
28 Jul 2017
Photos by Anar Kassymova
By Dina Teltayeva
When I was a child and then a teenager Kazakhstan was transiting from a centrally planned economy to a free market. Bounty and Snickers chocolates moved from TV commercials on the screens at home and quickly started flooding first small independent trading points known as “kiosks”. Such goods even became a commodity for informal trading among kids. I clearly remember giving five pieces of Turbo chewing gum and getting the much-coveted chocolate bar in return. These collectibles were rare and precious, at least for us, children, growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Adults, too, used to chase up and appreciate imported clothes and cosmetics.
On the other hand, the good thing was that we didn’t give much thought to other things, such as water. These amenities were generously and inexpensively provided by the planned economy. The bad thing was that we weren’t accustomed to think of them as precious. Prices were fixed and didn’t change for decades. As I write this I called up my mum to ask her how much we had to pay for water per month in early 1980s. The answer is… she doesn’t remember. On the Internet, I found out that in Soviet Kazakhstan a monthly utility bill was worth 10 roubles (18 USD at the time). My parents’ cumulative monthly pay was around 150 roubles (300 USD at the time).  So, as a family of four living in a four-bedroom apartment we spent only 6% of our monthly income on utilities, which included not only water, but also electricity, maintenance, telephone services etc. So, water alone would have easily made up only 1% of the household’s income per month.
Today things are, of course, different. A similar four-bedroom apartment might take up 30% of the household’s monthly income. But old consumption habits die hard and mental adjustment might take a while to occur.
At UNDP, we made a series of short videos (video 1, video 2) with tips on how to save water. For example, taking a shower rather than running a bath saves 150 litres of water per day, or 4,500 litres per year. It was only after I subconsciously started taking a shower more often a bath that I realized just how well this information had sunk in. Suddenly I saw that the adjustment was taking place in me even without making a conscious choice.
Calculations in another video show that leaking taps might be responsible for the loss of 24 litres of water per day, and that loading a washing machine to the full helps save 80,000 litres per year.
It’s not rocket science, of course. But I personally found out that clear figures can motivate to change oneself and change some old habits. I also hope that people who watch these videos at numerous events which UNDP hosts with its partners can also take something away for themselves and take a moment to think and see if they are ready to change themselves. Even if it’s one step at a time.
The currency of the Soviet rouble http://xodoki.net/kurs-sovetskogo-rublya/